Pay no attention to those wooden cattle stalls in the wings of the Cow Palace, and feel that bite of cold air as you get closer to the ice laid out in the middle of the arena.
Upon stepping into San Francisco Bulls President and Head Coach Pat Curcio’s orange-and-black clad office, it’s as if the team never left town.
Hockey has once again returned to the old barn as the Bulls — San Francisco’s slice of hockey heaven —are prepping for their sophomore season, opening Friday in Anchorage against the Alaska Aces.
The biggest upside at the start of the 2013-14 campaign? Curcio will tell you, it’s getting some of the old gang back together:
“I’ll tell you, at this time last year, we didn’t know anybody and it was real tough. But knowing that you have some veterans coming back this year, obviously you can set in a little nicer and get a better idea of your team. … So it’s a win-win to have guys come back, and we’re fortunate to have a few.”
Speaking with Curcio last week during Bulls training camp, he said things are feeling pretty comfortable on the ice with familiar faces such as Jordan Morrison and Dean Ouellet back in the mix:
“Just in practice today, you start throwing some words out that they’re familiar with. They lead and everyone else follows. And it’s a lot easier to watch and learn from example than to just draw it on the board. It’s great to have. It was some fresh air today to have those guys, and I’m excited to keep going.”
San Francisco’s roster contains eight players from last season, most of whom played key roles in helping the team get to the playoffs and in molding the identity of the young franchise.
This was evident in the team’s first preseason tilt. In their 3-2 loss to the Bakersfield Condors, the Bulls got goals from returning players Dylan King and Kris Belan.
The Bulls wasted no time bringing back important parts of the 2013 roster, resigning Belan, King, and captain Scott Langdon in mid-July when most other teams hadn’t yet announced a single player transaction.
High-scorer Christian Ouellet followed suit by returning to the roster and prepping to head to the AHL camp in Worcester mid-September.
Then, quite possibly the biggest roster surprise came just two days before camp opened, with the announcement that Morrison and Dean Ouellet were back on the team after playing with Arystan in Kazakhstan.
Curcio is already looking to these vets to be leaders both on and off the ice:
“Guys that are in the lineup are going to have to lead by example. In the dressing room, and also being in San Francisco. We’ve got several kids who are from (small towns) and it’s a big culture shock to get here! Even the traffic, it freaks them out! We’ve heard some funny stories just in the past couple of days.”
New additions to the Bulls roster have had to soak up as much “tourist time” as possible with returning players more familiar with San Francisco before the team heads to Alaska to start a season-opening three-week road trip.
If there’s one thing that won’t be any smoother this time around, it’s having to spend the first month of the season on the road while the Grand National Rodeo rolls into the Cow Palace:
“It’s difficult because some players will have to stay here and skate, and for us to be gone three weeks without seeing some of these guys. … But it’s unique with the Cow Palace and the rodeo, and we make due with how it is.”
After an winless preseason with two losses and one shootout loss, the puck drops on the San Francisco Bulls 2013 regular season Friday in Anchorage against the Aces. Their home opener will be on Friday, November 8 against the Bakersfield Condors, with puck drop scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Fans can follow the Bulls via radio play-by-play during games for free, or subscribe to pay-per-view live streams via America One Sports. Individual games cost $8 to stream; a 30-day pass is $30 and a season-long subscription costs $150.